“Airport Security” Is Impossible

“Airport Security” Is Impossible
Ohio Scientific C8P-DF

Ohio Scientific Model C8P-DF

As a boy, when my friends and I played Star Trek in the back yard, I was always Spock.  The character held an “A7 computer expert” rating.  When questioned about his qualifications during Kirk‘s court-martial, he testified simply:  “I know all about them.”  He was an expert with a Tricorder, able to extend its functionality using primitive technology.

In 1979 (I was 14 years old), my father purchased his first business computer.  It was a state-of-the-art Ohio Scientific C8P-DF, notable for its dual 8″ floppy drives capable of storing a massive 275K.

I was hooked.

The first computer I owned was the venerable Commodore 64.  Even today, it remains the best-selling personal computer of all time.  It sold over 17 million units and boasted over 10,000 software titles.

Motorola Droid Tricorder App

Android Tricorder App

My current computer of choice is the Motorola Droid.  Aside from scanning for life forms, it embodies all the functions of the Tricorder — and considerably more.

I eventually made my career in computing.  I have touched IBM mainframes, AS/400s, servers, PCs, Macs, laptops, netbooks, blades, virtual machines, iPod/Phone/Pads, Androids, routers, switches, load-balancers, mass storage devices, and firewalls.

With a career in computing comes degrees (I hold both an Associate and Bachelor of Science in Computer Science) and certifications.

One of these is the CISSP or “Certified Information Systems Security Professional.”  I obtained this in the year 2000 — before the tragic events of 9/11.  I might also add that it is the single most difficult exam I’ve ever taken.  No college exam in any subject, nor any other certification, comes close to the difficulty of the CISSP exam.

A typical data center

A typical data center.

While the CISSP is devoted to security as it relates to information systems, a major part deals with physical security as it relates to data centers.  This is important, as today’s data center can hold exabytes of data.

An exabyte is a million terabytes: roughly one million times the amount of data found on modern commercial hard drives.  Indeed, it’s estimated that Google alone processes about 24 petabytes of data every day (only a thousand times the size of commercial hard drives).

Information stored in modern data centers can include everything from your financial and medical history to the blog you’re reading now.  Obviously, one of the jobs of a qualified CISSP is to make sure that no one can simply walk into a data center and access the data storage hardware.

It was while studying the physical security section of the CISSP that I realized that what’s called “airport security” is nothing of the kind.  In fact, “airport security” is simply impossible.

The concept of “airport security” is actually Access Control.  “Access Control” is a catch-all concept that basically boils down to the idea of controlling who can get into a particular area and who can’t.

The reason that access control is impossible in an airport is very, very simple.  The underpinning of all access control is this concept:

Deny access to everyone but a few individuals.

“Airport security” attempts the reverse:

Allow access to everyone but a few individuals.

This is flatly impossible.

No individual, company, military, or government has ever devised a method to allow everyone in but keep a few out.  Every single individual, company, military, or government in existence implements access control by denying access to everyone but a select few.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Secret Service were to emulate “airport security” as regards access control to the President of the United States.  Starting tomorrow, anyone who wanted access to the President could have it and the Secret Service would concentrate on screening out those individuals bent on doing him harm.

The President could count his life expectancy in hours — perhaps only minutes.

The Secret Service handles access control the only way possible:  by establishing a perimeter around the President.  This perimeter denies access to everyone and only allows through a select few that were screened.

Maintaining this perimeter when the President is in public is what causes Secret Service agents to have nightmares.  It’s why entire freeways close when his motorcade passes.  It’s why Air Force One exists instead of the President flying via commercial jet.

Access control in a public place (such as an airport) is by definition impossible.

I’m rather naturally prone to a certain level of paranoia.  It’s part of what makes me good at information security:  I’m willing to imagine that which the average individual will not.  It’s why I’ve engaged in a now 15-year-long series of mental exercises regarding “airport security.”

TSA Porn

This is not “security”.

Since the Oklahoma City Bombing, every time I’ve been in line at “airport security,” I have amused myself imagining ways to subvert it.  Nothing — I repeat, nothing — the Transportation Security Agency has ever put in place would deter me from causing death and destruction if I so desired.  This includes their most recent institution of invasive X-Ray machines and “pat-downs” that would qualify as sexual assault were it to occur anywhere other than airports.

Indeed, I’m absolutely certain that I could smuggle a small-frame revolver onto any aircraft I liked.  I’ll not go into details unless asked, but there is absolutely no barrier to a determined individual doing so if they wish.

Were airports to institute true access control, their makeup would change radically — and in the process violate every one of the Bill of Rights.

The precepts of physical access control rest on three pillars:

  1. Something you have
  2. Something you are
  3. Something you know

Something you have is usually a magnetic key card issued solely to you.  If lost or stolen, it is immediately reported so that it will invalidated and a new one issued.  Magnetic key cards are swiped or held against a scanner that then checks with a computer database to ensure that this key has access to the area being controlled.

Something you are is biometric data, usually hand or fingerprints (though retinal and other biometric information is becoming more common).  The user places their hand on a scanner which then checks it against a computer database to ensure that this hand/fingerprint has access to the area being controlled.  It’s cross-referenced against the key card to ensure that the individual associated with the key card is also the individual associated with the hand/fingerprint.

Something you know is usually a password or PIN that the user changes at regular intervals.  Password rules are typically enforced as well, so as to prevent the user from choosing one that is easily deduced.  This password is also checked against a database and cross-referenced with both the key card and hand/fingerprint to assure that all three are assigned to the same individual.

Let’s imagine an airport where true access control is implemented:

Firstly, freedom of movement would be restricted.  Anyone who wished to travel by air would be required to undergo an extensive background investigation of the kind usually associated with government security clearances.  This is at best a multi-month process involving reams of paperwork in which the passenger would be required to report everything from their blood type to their credit history.

A handprint.

If the individual passed the background investigation, they would then be issued a permanent air access pass.  Their fingerprints, hand prints, and other biometric information would be collected by the TSA and held permanently.  They would be establish a secure password, which they would be required to change every few weeks, regardless of whether they’ve traveled by air or not.

A "secure" airport

A truly secure airport.

Physically, airports would resemble prisons.  At the least they would be surrounded with high fences (optimally concrete) topped with barbed wire.  Optimally, they would be entirely enclosed, save for jetways, aircraft parking slots, and runways.

Passengers would not have access via car, limousine, or public transportation.  Commercial vehicles of any kind would be restricted to parking areas well outside the airport.

A passenger wishing to enter would swipe their permanently issued pass key, place their palm on a hand-reader, and enter their password.  This would allow them physical access to the airport facility, but not allow access to any boarding area or flight.

Diagram of a Man-Trap

Diagram of a man-trap.

The passenger would then enter a man-trap.  This is a hallway containing two doors.  Only one door will open at a time: the entry door are closed before the exit door open.  The interior consists of concrete walls, floor, and ceiling.

At this point, the passenger would be required to surrender their baggage by leaving it in the man-trap.  There would be no carry-on baggage.  It would be placed on a stand resting in front of the only other exit from the man-trap:  a suitcase-sized 6″-thick steel sliding door operated remotely.

Utilizing the pass-key/handprint/password again, the passenger would leave the man-trap.

Baggage Search

Mandatory baggage search.

An operator would then open the baggage door and baggage would be transported via conveyor to inspectors.  The inspectors would then subject it to a rigorous manual search prior to tagging it with a radio sensor for tracking and appropriate routing.

Meanwhile, the passenger would proceed to the boarding area for their flight, again utilizing the key card, hand/fingerprint, and password to enter the boarding area.  The system would allow entry only to the boarding area of the flight for which the passenger is booked.

When boarding the flight, the passenger would enter the jetway via the same method.  The jetway, however, would be another man-trap, allowing only a single passenger at a time.  Entry to the aircraft would be accomplished using the key card, hand/fingerprint and password.

The same methods would then be used at the passenger’s destination, in reverse.

That would be airport security.

Understand that anyone with training in access control knows that it is impossible to secure a public place.  Every officer in every military in every country knows it.  Every Secret Service agent knows it.  Every FBI or CIA agent knows it.

Every TSA agent knows it.

What is occurring now, with naked x-rays and pat-down-rapes provides absolutely no barrier to terrorists.  Every single individual who has ever had experience with true access control knows this, and that includes every President, Vice-President, Speaker of the House, Congressman, and Senator.

What, then, is the purpose of “airport security” if not to provide a barrier to terrorists?

It’s two-fold:

Firstly, the overwhelming majority of individuals in the United States has no experience with true access control.  Their experience is limited to their workplace, which may issue a magnetic key card.  By itself, a key card offers very limited security, but in the workplace, it’s typically adequate.

After 9/11, passengers realized that airports could be accessed by terrorists and demanded the Federal Government “do something.”  Since there is no way to implement access control at a public place, those in power chose to use the event to establish procedures that offer no barrier to terrorists — but that are mistaken as such by the general public.

Over the next decade, these procedures became increasingly draconian, to the point where we are today:  airports that afford easy access to terrorists while only violating the rights of all passengers in the process.

The second (perhaps unintentional) purpose of “airport security” is far more dangerous and sinister than simply making passengers feel safer:

It has conditioned almost an entire generation of Americans that their rights are taken from them any time government claims it’s for the “common good.”

In short:  it has conditioned us to be sheep.

Is there a solution to the problem of terrorists having access to aircraft?  Indeed there is, and it can be implemented without resorting to the means described above.  It costs nothing, and in fact will allow the TSA to be disbanded and all “airport security” to be torn down.

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

The solution is simple:  enforce the Bill of Rights on aircraft.

That is, instead of making sure that every passenger is disarmed, degraded, and treated like criminals, simply allow the Second Amendment to be exercised by anyone who cares to do so.

There is, after all, no wording in the Second Amendment that says “unless the Federal Government says otherwise.”

I’m sure there are readers who will find this an alarming solution, but consider:

Until 1978, any passenger could board any aircraft in America with any form of firearm.

You read that right:  from 1903 until 1978 — a period of 74 years — any American could board any aircraft carrying any weapon of his/her choice.  Knives, handguns, and rifles were permitted; either concealed, carried openly, or packed in a briefcase.

For almost a three-quarters of a century, not a single individual was shot, nor a single cabin depressurized by a stray bullet, nor a single aircraft flown into a building.

It’s true that aircraft were occasionally hijacked.  It should be noted that their success depended on the Federal Aviation Administration’s policy of complying with a hijacker’s demands.

In a post-9/11 world, no would-be terrorist would successfully hijack a plane filled with armed passengers.  They would simply overwhelm the terrorist, even if it meant injury or death to some passengers in the process.

The alternative — another 9/11 or worse — would be unthinkable to armed passengers.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that were aircraft filled with individuals capable of defending themselves with lethal force, a would-be terrorist wouldn’t even make the attempt.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll leave you with the immortal contribution to this subject by the fantastic Scott Beiser.  Even if you place guns in the hands of the would-be terrorists, it makes no difference.

Scott Bieser September 11 Cartoon

What might have happened on 9/11 if this were truly the “Land of the Free”

Mystery Missile Is No Mystery

Mystery Missile Is a Contrail

I’m willing to say without any fear of being eventually disproven:

This is a contrail.

I like to a site below that explains this, but I’ll explain why I’m convinced it’s a contrail:

First, you need to do what I did when you watch this video, which is mute it and ignore the words on the screen. Ignore all the video accompanying it and just watch the footage of the object.

The first thing you notice is that even in 720p, you’re seeing an extreme digital zoom. The image is too pixelated to make out details.

The second thing you notice is … well … it looks exactly like a contrail seen at dusk on the Upper Great Plains, the kind that criss-cross our skies all day long.

We have jet traffic passing overhead at 30K feet all day and all night long. It comes from O’Hare, LAX, NYC, Canada, Texas, everywhere. Sometimes our skies look like a gridwork of parallel and perpendicular lines.

On a clear day in the Upper Great Plains, you really can see to 30K feet and above. Sometimes the sky is so clear you can actually see the glint of the aircraft at the head of the contrail. If the aircraft is at 10K feet or so, you can make out the details of the wings, lights if they’re on, etc.

What we have here is a contrail.

The reason it looks as though it’s going up with its trail billowing behind it is this:

It’s approaching the viewer. The aircraft is at the head of the contrail heading roughly east at about 30K feet. The contrail is behind it, trailing west. The contrail is spreading out and being blown somewhat south by high-altitude winds.

My guess is that the passengers or cargo of the aircraft were probably experiencing some chop from the winds.

I see these things all day. Seriously.

The color is because it’s early evening and the sun is giving a slight reddish tint to the clouds and the contrail.

I have, for almost 46 years, looked up in the sky every day and every night wishing I could boldly go where no man has gone before.

Consequently, I’ve seen a ton of contrails. 😉

You have to understand that apparently, most people just don’t look up very much.

Let me give you an example of why I’m sure that CBS News is a bunch of morons:

In 1991, I took a 100-level astronomy course that met at about 11am. The instructor asked the class if the Moon was ever visible during the day.

The class (with myself being the only exception) agreed that the Moon was never visible in daytime. Indeed, they maintained that the Moon was always on the opposite side of the planet during the day.

The instructor took the class outside and pointed to the clearly-visible moon.

These kids were all 18-20 years old, from suburban Chicago — and had never looked up during the day and noticed the moon.

Similarly, this CBS cameraman had never seen a contrail like this before.

Our news agencies are simply filled with lazy ignorami who don’t know a jet when they see one.

This doesn’t surprise me having debunked no less than three major stories of theirs in one week.

The other two were that Obama took a 11% of the US Navy to India (including an aircraft carrier) and that Jakarta was sending 25% of their cops to guard him while in the city.

In those cases, both were easily debunked. In the first case, I could prove it from easily-Google-able public records. 11% of the US Navy is neither concentrated in the Indian Ocean, nor anywhere else. Further, Jakarta (a city of nine million) could no more afford to throw 25% of their cops at Obama than could the NYPD.

These people are ignorami who no longer perform any verification of any stories. Indeed, the Onion News Network really is probably as accurate as the American press.

Here’s the link:

As they said in Fantastic Four:

“Now imagine that — but everywhere.”

That’s the skies in the Upper Great Plains.

It’s just a contrail, and CBS News are a bunch of ignorami trying to find news all day long and never, ever fact-checking it.

-30-

Independance Day Fail

Deek Jackson‘s analysis of the American people is so tragically accurate that I’m embarrassed it had to be said by a non-American.  At least it was a Scotsman.

On the Fourth of July this year, the American people celebrated their independence from the monarchy of Britain by failing to throw out the fascist, evil, corporate-backed Nazi government that now rules over them with an iron fist.

As such, the American people are derelict in their duty according to their own Declaration of Independence which clearly says that:

“… whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government …”

Ordinarily, I couldn’t give a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys about what the rest of the world thinks of the United States.  Occasionally one has to ask, however:  when the excrement hits the airflow device, what is the rest of the world going to want to do to us?

All I can say to the best and brightest of the world is this:  it may look from a distance like Americans are given choices in elections, but we’re not.  For something like a century, those in power have colluded to bar even the knowledge of how to take back our Republic.

Here’s an interesting fact that may help explain it:

In most U.S. States, a write-in candidate’s votes aren’t counted.

If you don’t know what a write-in candidate is, it’s a powerful concept:  a voter can write the name of a person not on the ballot and cast their vote for that person.

This is a vital concept to maintaining a Constitutional Republic.  A write-in candidate means that in theory, it would still be possible for the American people to take back their Republic.  Even the explicit attempts of our governments to exclude candidates other than those of the current ruling parties couldn’t overcome a real, grass-roots write-in candidacy.

Unfortunately, what’s happened is that the current ruling parties have put up barriers to getting on ballots, ostensibly in the name of keeping frivolous candidates from finding their way there.

Ballot access laws are now so draconian that the candidates not associated with one of the ruling parties are forced to spend most of their time, energy, and money, just getting on the ballot.

This leaves them almost no time, energy, or money to campaign.  They’re barred from debates with the ruling party candidates, unmentioned in any but specialty press, and scoffed-at on the few occasions that they are.

What the ruling parties have done to write-in candidates is simple:  made them subject to ballot access laws.

In most states, the minimum requirement to be on the ballot is collection of petitions.  This is a painstaking process whereby you and your friends personally collect signatures on a State-issued legal document that says the candidate should be on the ballot.  When an arbitrarily-large number of signatures has been reached, that step of the ballot access process is complete.

The two ruling parties are, of course, safely immune from this requirement.  They achieve ballot access as a matter of course.

Collecting signatures is painstaking and time-consuming.  Usually it completely exhausts the resources of an individual or political party.

Unfortunately, the modern press being what it is, it does no good to have a name on the ballot if you can’t effectively buy press time.

Now apply that to write-in candidates.

Consequently, write-in candidates have become politically meaningless.  They’re simply discarded.

This has been going on so long that my children consistently correct their Social Studies teachers that there are only two political parties.  They cite me, a libertarian — though they know there is a Constitution Party, a Natural Law Party, a Green Party … even a Communist Party and a Nazi Party.

My daughters are unique.  The overwhelming majority of the American people are utterly unaware that other political parties even exist.

What we’re left with is a pair of “choices” that disagree only on trivialities.  There are no grand debates about policy from a multitude of viewpoints; only the incessant, trivial squabbling of sociopathic narcissists fighting for all the power they can get their greedy little paws on.

As an American, I find it difficult to blame Americans for this situation.  If several generations of people are taught that there are only two political parties, it’s hard to fault them if that’s what they believe.

Taking back the Republic at the ballot box simply won’t happen.  The populace has been made far too ignorant for that to occur.

We’re also not going to take the Republic back by force.  We might have a hundred years ago.  Unfortunately, at the same time that the ruling parties were gutting the First Amendment with regard to ballot access, they also gutted the Second Amendment.

A hundred years ago, the arms available to individuals and their level of general training with them exceeded that of the country’s military.  This is clearly not the case today.  Any attempt to take back the Republic by force will be met with the full military might of the United States Federal Government.

(Oh, and don’t give me that crap about American soldiers not firing on American citizens.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming majority would follow orders if they were framed appropriately.)

Ultimately, I ask the rest of the world some level of understanding when things implode as they now inevitably must.  The American people were systematically barred from even the knowledge of how to take back their Republic.

-30-

An Interesting Idea

I was reading this when an interesting thought hit me:

On my paternal side, all the blood relatives from my grandparents down to my daughters’ second cousins, are currently alive and reasonably healthy.  My grandparents (now nearing their nineties) suffer from any number of age-related afflictions, but they show no signs of going anywhere any time soon.

On my maternal side, all the blood relatives from my mother’s generation down to my daughters’ second cousins are all currently alive and healthy.

To my knowledge, neither my grandparents nor their decendants has had cancer problems.  Not a single one.  There are several instances of diabetes, but none so bad that it’s permanently debilitating.  It’s possible that it contributed to my paternal great-grandfather’s death, and I know it was worse for my maternal grandfather than other family members.

On my ex-wife’s side of the family, she has access to no grandparents.  Her grandmother and mother died of cancer.  Her mother’s siblings and their descendants are alive and healthy. I’m not sure who’s available on her father’s side.  I believe that at least two generations (my daughters and their second cousins) are available.  That may extend another, to my wife’s generation.  I believe that there have been instances of diabetes, but I’m not sure.  In either case, it’s a double jackpot because you still have a pool whose distribution may give you clues about where to look for the gene sequence.

I continue to assure my daughters my fervent belief that medical science is progressing so rapidly that new breakthroughs occur at an alarmingly rapid pace.  No physician of one hundred years ago could have possibly dreamed the reality of today; our physicians will be utterly incapable of comprehending the combination of science and technology used by physicians of 2100.

Then I read items like this that only reaffirm my conviction.

What I’m thinking should seem obvious.  I can think of no way to put this that doesn’t make me sound cold-hearted and tactless, so I’ll just say it:

With the genomes currently available in my family — particularly my daughters’ — it should at least be possible to determine specific gene sequences for some kind of cancers, if such exists.  As a bonus, maybe diabetes.

Like I said, cold-hearted and tactless.  But, as the brilliant The Young Ones episode “Bambi” clearly illustrated so long ago:

Come now, Dr. Noththenineoclocknews, we’re men of science.  We fear no Earthly terrors!

(Which only sounds like I’m being pompous if you don’t know what I’m referencing.  Go on, you ignorant little frak-tards — off to YouTube to learn that your elders were just as big a bunch of cutting-edge ignorami as you think you are.  Yes, that is Hugh Laurie as Lord Monty.

(You’re not impressing anybody — especially not us, you pathetic, pretentious twits.  Build the next Internet and then maybe we’ll be impressed.  Of course by then, you’ll realize as we did:  we had nothing on our elders in the telecom and micro-miniaturization fields.  Without them, we’d’ve never been able to do what we did.  Hell, some of them are still at work — we’ve still got catching up to do.

(It’s all part of the Great Circle of … Stuff.  Trust me, you’ll get it.  Until then, frak off.  But I digress …)

If gene sequences can be isolated, the potential for treatment skyrockets.  All my close and extended family currently alive would almost certainly benefit from any kind of treatment that might be applied at the genetic level.

And yes, I’m totally aware that my daughters would benefit the most.  I’m not above admitting I want them to live as long, happy, healthy lives as possible.  If anybody else happens to benefit, the more the merrier.  But my daughters being able to live without worrying about cancer or diabetes because they can get it treated at a genetic level?  Damned straight.  And having grandkids who’ll never worry because the specific gene sequences in question can be restructured following conception but before the cells have divided beyond some critical mass.  Hell yeah!  And having great-great grandchildren who will never worry about it because no living human being retains the gene sequences in question?  Frakking-A!

I know, genetic-level treatment isn’t possible now.  But it will be.  Again, it will involve combinations of science and technology that will baffle the finest minds of today — but it’s coming.

It’s just a question of taking samples, freezing them, waiting for the technology to arrive to adequately examine them, unfreezing them, and doing tests.  Take a big enough sample from each person to do this a few times so you don’t run out.

While you’re waiting, take more samples, from any descendant of William and Sylvia Stone and … well, I’m sorry, I don’t know my ex-wife’s grandparents’ names.  I’m probably an ass, but they were long gone by the time I met her.  They were just shadowy sketches of someone else’s description.  The names didn’t stick.

But their genetic legacy does.  If we work reasonably fast on my grandparents in particular.

Please, some private firm with appropriate resources contact me.

And appropriate security.  I have an IT security background and certifications: you have no idea what I’m going to require before I’ll turn over my genome to somebody.  All us Stones seem to be that way — and yes, it did occur to me to imagine that you’d think being uppity about authority might be a genetic trait, you ethical cripple.  Educate yourself and reconsider what you’re asking for.

Hence the security requirements.  We keep the data, you pay us to to study it.  We decide when and if you get to poke your nose into our genomes.  The physical security alone will involve redundant dead-man switches to completely obliterate all samples and their non-public data in the event of unauthorized access.

Oh, and one more thing:  anyone may sign a waiver and their genome must be published under the GNU Free Documentation License.

I’m dead serious.  We either make history, get all get our hometown high schools named after us (and in your case, a prestigious university or two), and get fabulously wealthy no matter how hard we try avoid it …

… or you let it slip through your fingers and humanity suffers for generations more.  Starting with my daughters.

Clock’s ticking, get to work.  Don’t frak it up now.

What Is A Syrranite?

I’m a lifelong Star Trek fan. It was much easier to be a Trekkie (a politically correct term when I became one—I’m barely First Fandom) when I was a communist actor.

Star Trek portrays a small-c communist utopia in which:

  • Humans have evolved beyond the need for material wealth.
  • A wise, omnipotent central government sees to the needs of every individual.
  • We are led to infer that even in a galactic government, the activities of every individual are closely monitored. There is no Federation citizen about whom the various crews of the franchise cannot obtain instantaneous, detailed information.
  • Weapons ownership is tightly controlled. In almost every instance, only government operatives are allowed the right of self-defense. In 24th-century-era Star Trek, individuals’ weapons are removed automatically by transporter before they can even materialize.
  • Capitalism is portrayed as either evil or ridiculous, particularly as embodied by the Ferengi.

It’s easy to enjoy this when you’re a communist actor. It became increasingly difficult to do so as I embraced the Zero Aggression Principle. So much so, in fact, that I ultimately found it impossible. A year or two ago, when the current series’ Captain Archer actively participated in institutionalized slavery, I stopped watching the series altogether.

Well … almost altogether. In fact, being the Trekkie that I am, I couldn’t help but watch a handful of episodes. However, last year’s Xindi story arc (which started as a parallel to 9/11 and quickly devolved to the usual hackneyed crap) left me so disinterested that I can count the episodes I watched on one hand.

T'Pol of Vulcan

Jolene Blalock as T’Pol of Vulcan. Blalock tells anecdotes about her bra being so heavily-padded that she was often unaware when someone bumped into her chest.

I wasn’t alone. Star Trek: Enterprise‘s ratings declined throughout the season as more longtime fans left the show; while simultaneously the catsuit and two-cupsize-padded-bra of the series “chick character” failed to capture the high-school/college males. It wasn’t about philosophy for the majority of viewers: over the last ten years, the franchise has steadily devolved into formulaic A/B plots and last-minute technobabble rescues. This doesn’t make for compelling drama.

As a lifelong fan, one of the bothersome things about Enterprise has been its portrayal of the Vulcans. Given the dignified, intelligent, and almost ruthlessly ethical character of Spock, the Enterprise versions were a shock. They are uniformly portrayed as deceitful, power-hungry, manipulative, prejudicial, intolerant, and outright racist.

This year, faced with plummeting ratings, Trek franchise owner Paramount Pictures hired writer/producer Mannie Cotto to undertake fixing Enterprise‘s little red wagon. One of his first chores was to clean up the Vulcans. For the last three weeks, a story arc aired that was intended to reconcile the Spock version (embodied in the story in the Syrannite group) with the deceitful, power-hungry, manipulative, prejudicial, intolerant, racist version (the non-Syrannites).

The following bit of Star Trek trivia may not be of interest to everyone. However, as a Zero Aggression Principle philosopher, I beg your indulgence, because there is a point that directly relates to the ZAP.

According to Star Trek lore, Vulcans weren’t always logical, unemotional pascifists. In fact, they were more emotional than human beings, almost entirely ruled by their passions. As a consequence, about two thousand years in Star Trek‘s past, they nearly succeeded in destroying themselves via nuclear war.

Surak of Vulcan

Barry Atwater as Surak of Vulcan

Enter the Vulcan philosopher Surak, who advocated … well, something. It’s never stated precisely what. We’re told he’s the father of Vulcan civilization, which infers that he brought logic, reason, and emotional suppression to his people.

Yet, particularly as I embraced the ZAP, it seemeed to me that there would have to be something even more philosophically tangible to make it actually work. Logic is nice, but how would that actually reform a society? One can use forms of logic to justify almost any action: Hitler no doubt found extermination of the Jews entirely logical.

During the last three weeks, in the course of attempting to reconcile the Enterprise Vulcans with those who come chronologically later in the franchise, viewers were introduced to the 1800-year-dead Surak.

Actually, they were introduced to Surak’s Katra. Hang on tight, because this is where it gets a little wierd:

In an original series episode entitled “Return to Tomorrow,” it was revelaed that Vulcans (who are exceptionally psychic) can literally remove an individual’s consciousness from his or her body. In that episode, the minds of Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Anne Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) are swapped with those of three aliens. And that’s not all: one alien later appear to have killed Spock. It was revealed that at the last minute, he transferred his consciousness to the body of semi-regular Nurse Chapel.

On the surface, this kind of plot device might appear to be nothing more than the usual alien mind control so common in low-grade “skiffy,” but over the years, Star Trek used it to good advantage. In 1985’s Star Trek III: The Search For Spock it was revealed that the Vulcan consciousness is called a Katra—and it is nothing less than their immortal soul.

What Star Trek has studiously failed to address are the implications of this: if Vulcans have a Katra, and if we have seen human minds manipulated the same way as Vulcans, then humans have Katras as well.

In other words, in the Star Trek universe, Vulcan psychic abilities have scientifically proven the existence of the immortal human soul. By extension, this should apply to every other sapient race—and possibly even lower animals. There is, after all, no logical reason for Vulcans to be strict vegetarians unless they know that animals also have Katras.

This is a fairly Earth- (or Vulcan- ) shattering revelation. It should have been central to the story arc just completed on Enterprise, yet all three episodes managed to mention it only in passing.

What we learned in this cycle of episodes was that what differentiated Syrannites is that they embrace their psychic abilities and learn to control and master them. Non-Syrannites shun such abilities.

Without taking into account the spiritual aspect of these psychic abilities, this seems to be a fairly minor difference. It’s even less important when one considers that the Syrannites are portrayed as no less decietful, manipulative, power-hungry, prejudicial, intolerant, and racist as their non-Syrannite counterparts.

In fact, given what we’ve seen of Vulcan psychic powers, the Syrannites are vastly more dangerous. They’re decietful, manipulative, power-hungry, prejudicial, intolerant, and racist—and they lack any social injunction against the use of their psychic abilities to nefarious ends.

Sybok of Vulcan

Laurence Luckinbill as Sybok of Vulcan

In one particular case, Sybok (the antagonist in the movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) is shown to be capable of using his psychic abilities to cultivate an army of fanatical followers ready to obey his every whim. This isn’t portrayed as an unusual ability, but rather a misuse of the psychic powers common to all Vulcans.

Imagine what might happen should a group of Vulcans use their psychic abilities to bring Surak’s teachings to the galaxy at large? They could create converts of world leaders between courses of a meal at a state dinner.

Unfortunately, Manny Cotto didn’t succeed in providing the Vulcans with a workable ethical construct that would make them anything other than horrifically dangerous.

As a Zero Aggresion Principle philosopher, the answer seems obvious. I doubt Manny Cotto or any other Hollywood statist could possibly understand, but what the Vulcans need is really quite simple:

They need the Zero Aggression Principle, which states:

No human being has the right—under any circumstances—to initiate force against another human being, nor to threaten or delegate its initiation.

If, after almost forty years, it were to be revealed that in addition to preaching logic, Surak also taught non-aggression, Star Trek would become something that it has not been for at least ten years:

It would be exciting again.

Unfortunately, if past performance is any indication, Star Trek will not only fail to address this issue, it will also continue to side-step anything remotely resembling relevance. It was one thing in the late 1960s to raise such tantilizing issues on a TV series but never examine them. It’s impossible to imagine a TV network in 1966 willing to suggest that initiation of force rather than force itself is immoral. Certainly the presentation of the immortal soul as independant of a Judeo-Christian God concept would have been potentially disasterous on 1960s television.

As bad as Star Trek has been over the last decade, it’s almost painful to admit that yes, I’m still a Trekkie. I’d like to enjoy the show again. If Star Trek is to continue, these are exactly the kinds of issues it needs to address. If the franchise wishes to prosper beyond the end of the 2004/2005 TV season, it needs to boldly go where no TV show (with the possible exception of the not-quite-gone-but-sorely-missed Firefly) has gone before:

It needs to embrace the ZAP.

Unfortunately, post-Babylon 5, post-Firefly, post-Farscape, post-any modern TV SF, the failure of Star Trek to take innovative approaches to science fiction is precisely what defines the franchise a remnant of the past rather than a herald of the future.